Dreams and Dread

I’ve been having some interesting dreams lately.

I’m back in Japan in these dreams. In various places, usually somewhere outside of Tokyo. Sometimes I’m aware I’m in a nearby prefecture, sometimes it’s just a generic countryside.

The key thing that they all have in common isn’t location. It’s the end of an enjoyable moment. Each one being cut short by an intrusion from a violent reality.

In most dreams it’s the awareness that something more sinister is lurking that does it. Planes flying overhead that don’t sound like commercial airliners. Seeing an Air Force base off in the distance. The mention of unknown invaders and needing to be prepared for looters.

The worst one had the bombs

It wasn’t just that in the dream I could see the flash and feel the reverb. It wasn’t that the 1960’s “duck and cover” mantra was my first response or that I knew it was far off enough to not do too much damage. It wasn’t even that after three drops we were told to comply with an invading army so we wouldn’t get hurt.

It was that in the morning, I read the news that Azabu-Juuban — on the very subway line I took to and from school for three years — was going to build a bomb shelter. It was all becoming a bit too real.

Since then a feeling of dread about everything has washed over me. Stuck with me. Burrowed its way into my brain and it wont let go.

A perfect example of this in action: J and I were watching a YouTube video of someone comparing different brands of trash bags. A totally innocuous topic. Yet as the video went on, all I could see were mountains of full trash bags lying in heaps in landfills, never to decompose, full of plastic goods and Styrofoam take out containers. It spiraled from there into outrage that we can’t solve the trash problem but have the audacity to litter space with even more of it.

I had to get up and go do something else to stop myself from ranting. Every day I get increasingly more upset that we can’t use our theoretically advanced pattern matching brains to do something more positive in the world.

It’s easy to handwave it all away as too much doomscrolling. Reading too much news. Being “too woke”. Whatever it is that we’re blaming this week for confronting us with dread.

The advice I most commonly hear is to basically ignore the feeling. “Do something productive.” “Be more involved in community projects.” “Vote harder.” Do whatever you can to not look dread directly in the face.

And…I don’t want to do that.

It’s not that I don’t want to hold those with power to account. I do. It’s not that I don’t want to help people in need with the resources I have. I do. It’s that all of this is still framed as a way to pass the responsibility of the issue off to the individual. Which is exactly why I’m feeling dread in the first place.

I’m just one individual against a machine that has a vested interest in not changing. My actions alone are not doing anything to slow or reverse the course of the machine. Instead, I’m getting chewed up by it in the process.

Lately, dropshipping has been on my mind. I hear from those on TikTok that the TikTok Shop problem is getting worse, with TT now attempting to directly compete with Amazon by using auto-detection to identify products in videos and giving viewers purchase links. It encourages the microtrend problem, the haulification of consumerism, fast fashion, sweat shop labor and unsafe working conditions, the landfill issue, mircoplastic pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and overall climate crisis.

Me choosing to not use their platform does nothing to stop this. Me speaking out about this issue does nothing to stop this. Me voting on initiatives to “ban TikTok” does nothing stop this (it only shifts it to Amazon again, thus adding another issue to the list, monopoly markets.)

“Just log off.”

I can’t unknow what I know.

I go for my stupid walks for my stupid mental health. I’m greeted with reminders of the problem.

How many neighbors doors do I pass with small piles of Amazon boxes out front? How many small pieces of trash litter the sides of the sidewalk? How many birds do I hear and wonder how much of their homes they’ve lost to my home? How many giant trucks roll through, their engines groaning and gulping down gas?

It doesn’t help. Even if I were to drive out to a park, it still wouldn’t help. In fact, it’d only add a layer of contradiction to the whole charade. Contributing to the problem just to pretend to escape it.

The most nature I get to see on my walk is a small garden and retention pond where the blue jays sometimes congregate. On rainy nights, you might find some toads happily milling about. Some mornings I see long-legged cranes taking off from it as I watch on my distant balcony.

On two sides it is flanked by roads. Several houses abut the rest of it.

Sometimes I think I’ll stop and just sit for awhile. There are a few benches and I never see anyone using them. Plenty walk or drive past in a hurry, no one ever just sits and listens.

When I think about it, do I ever just sit and listen?

Usually, after these walks, I come home and open the back door to let whatever breeze there may be in. I elevate my legs on the edge of our bed, finish syncing my smartwatch to my phone, and then just lay there. Listening.

These are the moments where the dread returns. It plays out all the things it saw, all the things it was thinking about during my walk.

A car horn goes off or a truck rolls past; it reminds me that the planet is dying and there’s nothing I can actually do to stop it. Bombs will be dropped on children today, it whispers, as I hear the children at the nearby schools laughing. When a bird comes by to find seeds on my patio, an image of its dulled colors flashes before me — all because the berries it would have eaten to provide its brilliant hue are in short supply.

I just listen to it.

It goes on for awhile. I try to distance myself from it, not out of shame, but curiosity. I’m willing to accept it’s here, it’s a part of me, and there is no escaping it.

We are friends now. We have to be. And like all good friends, I have to be willing to hear it out.

There are no solutions I can give it. That isn’t what it wants though. It wants me to look at it. To know it. To stop pushing it aside with delusion, distraction, denial, or righteous indignation.

No matter how angry I get, it will still be there. No matter how much I try, it will still be there. No matter how much I do, it will still be there.

Sometimes, while I’m laying there like a fool, I wonder what it would take to convince everyone to just sit with their dread and listen. Would it help? Would it change anything? Or have we been living and ignoring our sense of dread for so long that everyone else is immune to it now?

I don’t know. But maybe if these CEOs and presidents and board members sat, alone, with their dread and guilt for a few minutes it might change their decisions. Maybe not. Maybe they’d just cover over it with faux-realizations.

All I know is that the best I can do for it is to listen. Then act.


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